Sudanese opposition supporters called on the military to overthrow dictator Omar al-Bashir after soldiers faced off with security services in defence of anti-government protesters.
At least one soldier was killed when troops intervened to prevent officers from Sudan’s national security service breaking up a rally demanding the resignation of Bashir, Sudan’s long-serving dictator, in the early hours of Monday morning.
The incident came after two days of massive demonstrations outside the army headquarters in Khartoum, where opposition supporters had gathered on Saturday to demand military protection. Witnesses said firefights erupted at around 2:30 am after security men on pickup trucks fired rubber bullets, tear gas, and live rounds in an attempt to disperse the crowd.
The fighting lasted about six hours. Footage shared on social media showed soldiers among the crowd firing assault rifles at unseen targets. Protesters were seen hoisting soldiers onto their shoulders and flashing V for victory signs as the fighting subsided after dawn.
The Sudan Doctors Committee, an affiliate of the Sudan Professionals Association, the trade-union umbrella group leading the demonstrations, said a soldier was fatally wounded and another man died elsewhere in Khartoum after being beaten and tortured by security forces.
It said at least 90 people were wounded in the attempted break up of the sit-it. The SPA called on the army to end al-Bashir’s rule and said they are seeking "direct communications" with its leadership to "facilitate a peaceful transfer of power to a transitional government."
But General Awad Ibnouf, the defence minister, said the armed forces would resist attempts to divide the security establishment.
"Sudan’s armed forces understand the reasons for the demonstrations and is not against the demands and aspirations of the citizens, but it will not allow the country to fall into chaos," Gen Ibnouf, who is also a vice president and seen as an ally of Mr Bashir, said in comments carried by the state newsagency.
Sudan has been gripped by weekly anti-government protests since December, when a surge in the price of bread sparked demands for Omar al-Bashir, the long-serving dictator, to resign.
Demonstrators pitched camp outside the military’s headquarters on Saturday, in a move that emulated the occupation of Cairo’s Tahir square in 2011.
Thousands of people were seen flowing into the area for a third night of protest on Monday evening as the weather cooled in the evening.
Witnesses told the Telegraph that the mood was optimistic, but that it was widely expected that security services might try to clear the area again after midnight.
“What we see now is that there are divisions and splits inside the army. The leadership remains aligned to Bashir, but most of the lower and middle ranks support the demonstrators,” said Salih Ammar, deputy editor of Change, a Sudanese newspaper.
“Officially the army has taken a neutral position between the opposition and government, but since they intervened to protect them, we can say in practice they have taken the side of the demonstrators."